The threat of terrorism came home to Oregon Friday as the FBI foiled an alleged plot to detonate a huge bomb next to Portland’s Pioneer Square during the annual holiday tree-lighting festivities.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old sometime engineering student at Oregon State University, allegedly intended to blow up a van packed with explosives while the square was thronged with some 25,000 spectators.
“Do you remember when 9/11 happened, when those people were jumping from skyscrapers? I thought that was awesome,” Mohamud said to undercover FBI agents, according to an affidavit released by the FBI. “I want to see that, that's what I want for these people. … I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.”
The FBI had been tracking Mohamed, a naturalized US citizen who’s a native of Somalia, since at least August 2009, according to the affidavit. Undercover operatives contacted him last June, and Mohamud allegedly began talking with them about how he wanted to blow up a bomb in Pioneer Square.
The agents encouraged Mohamud in his plans, even (according to an Oregonian story) going so far as to build a practice bomb and help him detonate it in a remote area in Lincoln County.
Then, this month, the FBI constructed a dummy bomb inside a van that Mohamud was supposed to park near the square and detonate remotely with a cell phone. When Mohamud allegedly tried to set off the “bomb,” FBI agents and police swooped in and arrested him.
Some civil libertarians, of course, are complaining that Mohamud was entrapped by the FBI. For instance, former Portland Mercury News Editor Matt Davis (as reported by Carla Axtman on Blue Oregon) opined on his Facebook page that “this poor young man was entrapped by over-zealous, seemingly equally mentally ill FBI agents. They assembled the ‘bomb,’ for Chrissakes.”
I don’t think I’ll lose sleep worrying about whether the FBI was unfair to this “poor young man,” who, if he was “entrapped,” seemed only too eager to walk into the trap. I’m just glad the “terrorists” he was working with were FBI operatives instead of the real thing.
I also was reminded of a statement Al Gore made after 9/11 that preventing terrorist attacks was mostly a police problem, not a military problem. Gore was ridiculed at the time, but events have vindicated him. The “shoe bomber,” the “underwear bomber,” the package bomb plot in October, and now the alleged would-be Pioneer Square bomber – all were thwarted by good police work, not by sending tens of thousands of troops into the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan.